Monday, February 25, 2013

The hangman named Camille

The House of the Hanged Man was painted by Cezanne in 1873 and depicts a picturesque cottage situated in Auvers near the Rue de Four.  Despite the title, no suicide or hanging is known to have taken place there. Supposedly, the house had been owned by a Breton man named Penn’Du, which closely sounds like the French word for hanged man - Pendu.  

I read of this painting on Vivian Swift's blog which I read weekly; and the title suited the dark side of humanity I was wading into at the time. While researching the Winnipeg Police Department's buffalo robe coats I stumbled on information about the last person hanged in Headingley Jail in Manitoba. What caught my attention was the fact that the hangman got a credit. His name was Camille -  he was wearing a black beret and a Hawaiian shirt. Wardrobe surprise! Wouldn't you think a serious job like hanging people would call for a somber costume...a black shirt perhaps? The beret befuddled me completely. I cannot imagine why someone would dress like this to perform a hanging, but then I know no one who would take such a job.

And so I did a little more Wikipedia research and learned that Canada's "official" hangmen have been few - only three of them:

1. J Radcliffe was hired as Canada’s national hangman in 1892. One of the original stipulations in his contract with the federal government included a clause that might seem odd today, but was apparently the norm for many hangmen of that time around the world — Radcliffe was entitled to the clothes off the backs of the men he executed. 

Radcliffe, sometimes spelled “Radclive”, also liked to sell lengths of rope as souvenirs as he travelled the country performing executions. The fact was, the rope used in the hangings themselves was never passed on to the hangmen. Radcliffe was once caught in a B.C. hardware store by a local sheriff; the hangman was buying extra rope. Presumably he sold lengths as "the piece of rope that hanged so-and-so".

He was British, but lived in Toronto and worked on the side as a waiter at a yacht club; he was fired when a customer recognized him from his other line of work. At the time of Radcliffe’s death, it was reported he had hanged upwards of 150 people.

2. Arthur Ellis. Arthur Ellis was the pseudonym of Arthur B. English, a British man who became Canada's official hangman in 1913, after Radclive's death. Ellis worked as a hangman in Canada until the botched execution of Thomasina Sarao in Montreal in 1935, in which she was decapitated.
He died in poverty in Montreal in July, 1938. Ellis is prominently featured in the 2009 documentary
"Hangman's Graveyard".

3. Camille Blanchard.  Camille Blanchard (a pseudonym), succeeded Ellis. Blanchard was on the Quebec government payroll as hangman and executed people elsewhere in the country on a piecework basis. Blanchard carried out many executions (for which he was not paid) in the postwar period in Canada, such as the double hanging of Leonard Jackson and Steven Suchan of the Boyd Gang in 1952.


This is as close to a hangman as I've ever been. Close enough for me.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sepia Saturday 165: Who are those people?

It's very sad that nobody knows who these people were. As I looked into their faces for clues,  I started to think that the man looks ever so slightly like Danny Kaye. Use a little imagination - look at the hairline - maybe he could be an uncle or a cousin?

As I pondered this possibility,  I remembered that street artist I saw last year in Italy. I was positively gob smacked when I looked back at my photos and saw the picture he was painting. Is it Danny Kaye? or the father of our family?

On a recent visit to Norway I noticed this woman looking through a window and remembered her. She's a bit haunting and looks very much like the Mom in our photo.

Even the cats picked up on a certain something because I noticed them gazing at the television the other day. The little boy looked familiar......

A fleeting recognition of the three of them was gnawing at my brain. I went to bed last night wondering and worrying about why I felt somehow that I'd seen that photo somewhere before. Woke up in the middle of the night with one of those AHA moments. Vladimir Putin's conference room! I checked it out this morning and there they sat, the three of them, at the head of the table calmly watching the proceedings. I noticed in passing that the man could also be sort of related to Vladimir. Or had I spent too much time gazing into this families eyes?
And didn't I see them once in a museum somewhere? Where was that anyway? Everybody seemed to be gravitating toward their photo.

Well, thanks to the magic of Photofunia this family of unknowns has been transported into some familiar surroundings which makes them seem to me a little less distant and disconnected from the rest of the world - at least for this blog, in this moment and for one magical Sepia Saturday. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sepia Saturday 164: White ink

The white writing on the turtle's back recalled for me my father's habit of writing names and dates directly on the face of photos. The customary practice was to write underneath the photo on the album page leaving the photograph unmarred. Did he do the right thing? In my case, our old photos have long since been removed from albums for the sake of storage space. Had he written only on album pages, the photos might now be unidentifiable.   

Here's an example.... a photo of me with the first pet I can remember, Sandy - the cat whose face was bigger than mine. With augmentation from my pointy witches hat, my head is certainly taller than his but he clearly wins the prizes for widest face and overall beauty. His strawberry blonde coat put my ratty woolen leggings to shame. While I look moth eaten, Sandy, even in my clumsy head lock (meant to be affectionate), displays his ever present dignity and bearing. I loved that cat! And thanks to my Dad, I know it's me and I know it was April 1947. Sandy didn't rate billing in this picture.

I can hear my father chuckling to himself as he labeled this one. Thanks for letting us know it's
a cow!

The white snow posed a challenge for Dad's white ink in this photo. He resorted to a tricky positioning of the occasion and date on the dark background. I like the vertical 1947 pine tree.

The next one is the work of my older sister and likely pre-dates the white pen. She shared my
father's sense of humor in labeling.

The final offering is white inked, June 1946. My beloved stuffed monkey, I guess you could call her my mascot, was at my side. For a short period we were inseparable. The monkey was a bit of a novelty for our neighborhood in Winnipeg. Most of my friends had a Winnie-the-pooh.Why?

The name Winnipeg was given to a female black bear purchased as a cub in Canada by Lt. Harry Colebourn (a veterinarian) of a Canadian cavalry regiment en route to the Western Front during the first World War. The bear became the regiment's mascot and was smuggled into London. Eventually Winnipeg ended up a much loved addition to the London Zoo and was the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh.

 Here's the longer story from Wikipedia....

The bear was smuggled into Britain as an unofficial regimental mascot. Lt. Colebourn, the regiment’s veterinarian named her after his home city of Winnipeg. Before leaving for France, Colebourn left Winnie at London Zoo. Her eventual destination was to have been the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, but at the end of the War, Colebourn decided to allow Winnie to remain at the London Zoo, where she was much loved for her playfulness and gentleness. Among her fans was A. A. Milne's son Christopher Robin, who consequently changed the name of his own teddy bear from "Edward Bear" to "Winnie the Pooh", providing the inspiration for his father's stories about Winnie-the-Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh
E. H. Shepard illustration from A. A. Milne's book.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Sepia Saturday 163: Keeping Warm

I began this week's post thinking about the snow shovel. A patent search revealed all kinds of interesting inventions related to moving snow around - far too broad a subject to tackle for this purpose. Just for fun, here's one design that seems to have persisted. There are patents dating back 100 years covering variations on this theme. I don't know if it was ever successfully commercialized but if not, this is a very good looking prototype.

From the Peel library, University of Alberta, Canada
Reluctantly I set aside the snow shovel and moved along to the man pictured huddled into his coat with his collar up; then jumped to the larger concept of keeping warm in cold weather. In Winnipeg where I grew up, in the winter, police officers wore buffalo skin coats for a century from 1874 to 1974. The first of these coats cost $17; in the early 1890's as buffalo disappeared, the coats became unavailable and the police force shifted to ankle length coon coats. Few photos of these exist, but this one, a post card commemorating the visit of the Duke of Connaught Feb. 15th, 1915, gives a very good impression of how imposing the coats were. Post card reverse side is as follows:

To: Miss N. Ginge
Address: 25 Kingston, Yeovil, Somerset, England
Message: "18th Battery 5th Brigade, [B.C.H.] 2nd Contingent, Winnipeg, Canada, 7.2.15, Dear N., I was very pleased to get your lovely letter, I shall write you soon. We expect to leave here any time, some have already gone. The weather is very soft here now & there is water lying in the streets. Can't say if I will see you in the spring but hope so. With love to you & all, HSS."

Later when buffalo herds were thinned, coats were available once again and the force wore them until 1974.  I remember a friend's father who was on the police force wearing one. A tall, muscular man, the coat made him seem enormous and formidable which I would imagine was the desired effect. Today, a buffalo coat costs about $3000.00.

Winnipeg City Archives

Here am I in my fuzzy snowsuit, not buffalo but like the lost children below I loved the police in their coats.

City of Winnipeg Police Department Book (1920)

 Here's a photo of a couple of Winnipeg police early this year wearing coats from the Police Museum.
After a long winter wearing one of these coats they would require a good cleaning before
putting them away in mothballs for the rest of the year. Here's an amusing approach to
keeping your fur coat looking good:

Once you're sure your coat is clean and tidy, rush on over to Sepia Saturday for more chilling tales. 

Monday, February 04, 2013

Publicity Macey eats Geriatric Chicken

William and Felicity
Richard was telling me about an interview he heard on NPR with William H. Macey. "Did they talk about his wife?" I asked. "Yes" he replied "She works in publicity." "Publicity?" said I "Isn't she an actress?" FELICITY, he exclaimed. "Why on earth would you think her name might be Publicity?"

What we need
Later that evening, we were out to dinner when he told me he was ordering the "geriatric chicken". "They actually have that on the menu?" I asked in wonderment,  musing about the marketing benefits of so definitively positioning a product. Finally, after I rambled on a bit, he realized what I thought I heard and did one of those coffee spurt laughs saying TERIYAKI chicken, not geriatric chicken.

That very day we were at the audiologists office where I received my new Bi-Cross Phonac hearing aids. There's a tiny microphone in one ear and a receiver in the other. Technically it should reduce or eliminate the head shadow we single-sided hearing people experience. I find it's helping me a tiny bit so far but might be exacerbating the *&^%^&tinnitus. I didn't expect miracles but thought the expensive device would be better than it is. So far.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Sepia Saturday 161 - 2: So sorry about the oysters

The funny aspects of the bananas in the Dughi store first caught my eye in last week's prompt. But then there were darker thoughts from a blog I wrote some time ago......

I began to think about the plight of the poor oysters in this Oyster Saloon. I remembered an article in the New Yorker magazine some time ago about freezing corpses for thawing in the future. The famous baseball player Ted Williams opted to be frozen in this way and sparked a huge controversy. The primary research into this practice was done on oyster embryos. A former cryogenic researcher claimed that he pays $100.00 a year to keep two oyster embryos frozen; he has been maintaining them for 25 years. Somehow he just couldn't pull the plug on them - or let them thaw out and swim away, which he claims they will do. It fascinated me that a person could bond to, of all things, a frozen oyster embryo. Whenever I see anything about eating oysters I'm reminded of this researcher and his empathy for the bivalves we shuck and gulp down without a second thought.

Cruelest of all the stories about oysters is my childhood favorite, the narrative poem , "The Walrus and The Carpenter" from "Through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll. My father knew this poem by heart and used to enjoy reciting it for me with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a handkerchief for mopping up my tears for the poor little oysters in the other one. To this day, I cannot read the poem without feeling sad.

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.